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Security Lapses Blamed For Russian Airport Blast

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Security Lapses Blamed For Russian Airport Blast


Security Lapses Blamed For Russian Airport Blast

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The brutal question some travelers may be asking is why this didn't happen sooner. A fair number of terrorists target airplanes in flight. Fewer attackers have found security flaws at airports. But that's exactly what a bomber did yesterday at an airport outside Moscow. The bomb killed at least 35 people at Domodedovo Airport.

NPR's Moscow correspondent David Greene is covering the aftermath.

DAVID GREENE: The bomb erupted in a part of the airport that people know well. It's that spot where you gather to meet passengers. You scan the crowd emerging from customs, and you run to embrace your friends or loved ones as soon as you spot them.

Johann Hammerer, a traveler from Austria, was collecting his luggage at the conveyor belt when there was a deafening explosion. He carefully moved into that arrivals hall, and it was chaos that greeted him: people screaming, victims being loaded onto baggage carts.

Mr. JOHANN HAMMERER: Some of them were really badly injured. Everything was bloody - their head, their legs - and some of them were laying. They took two trolleys and were laying over the trolleys. And I think one of them was dead.

GREENE: It was surprising, though, how quickly life returned to normal - or at least, tried to. After reporting yesterday, my colleague and I searched for a cab driver to take us home, and we found 44-year-old Sergei Komarov. Turns out just hours earlier, he had been standing in the arrivals hall, waiting for a fare, when the bomb went off, spraying chunks of metal and shrapnel in all directions. Somehow, Sergei was spared - not the people around him.

Mr. SERGEI KOMAROV (Cab Driver): (Through translator) One man, he fell down. His leg was torn off. He was crawling along, pulling himself by his hands. He was groaning and went on crawling, without a leg. And there were all these pieces of flesh. This is the first time I have ever seen this. I am in shock. I still can't get myself together.

GREENE: I asked Sergei why, after taking in such a grim scene, he was already back to work.

Mr. KOMAROV: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Well, I don't know, he said. I have a schedule that I have to keep to. There's no way I can call my boss and say I'm not working anymore today.

That's the Russian mindset. No matter what, you remain tough and stoic. But that's becoming more difficult with each new, violent attack. Over the past 14 months, bombs have derailed a luxury train, killed commuters on the Moscow subway, and now claimed lives at this gleaming, international airport.

President Dmitri Medvedev was planning to head to Switzerland yesterday to brag about his country's economic potential while attending the World Economic Forum. Instead, Medvedev canceled and went on TV to talk about the bombing.

President DMITRI MEDVEDEV: (Through translator) After previous and similar events, we passed appropriate legislation, and we have to check how it has been applied because obviously, there have been lapses. And we must get to the bottom of this.

GREENE: One place to look, he said, is at security in the airport. All airports struggle with this question of what to do about areas outside the security perimeter - where in general, anyone's free to roam. Given the terrorism risk in Russia, Domodedovo has metal detectors at airport entrances. Yet they only use them occasionally - meaning, a person could have walked into the arrivals hall yesterday without being screened.

So far no one's claimed responsibility for this attack. Government officials suspect a suicide bombing, and one investigator told state media that remains of the presumed bomber were found.

In past attacks here, militants from the North Caucasus have been responsible. That's the volatile region of southern Russia where an Islamist insurgency is raging.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

GREENE: And in the wake of any incident like this, there is the fear of retaliation against people of Caucasian descent. They often have darker complexions and face routine discrimination in Russia. Ethnic tensions were already high last month, when nationalists staged a series of riots in central Moscow, chanting slurs against Caucasians and yelling out: Russia is for Russians.

Unidentified Man: Russiya dla Russky.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

GREENE: After this airport bombing, all eyes will also be on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. His policy has long been to respond to acts of terrorism by targeting suspected insurgents in the Caucasus, and also tightening the government's control over society.

David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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